Night Light of the North Coast: 1964 High Water on the Avenue

“High Water Dec 1964,” reads the sign at chest level. Arrows on the pole draw the eye to the true marker far above. Avenue of the Giants at Weott, Humboldt County, California.

In 1964 a perfect storm of snow melt and heavy rains caused a historic flood in Humboldt County and the greater Pacific Northwest. Along the Eel River watershed, the raging flood waters wiped out roads, bridges, and entire communities. Highway 101 was submerged at some points. That was before my memory, and now most of its effects have been blurred by the passage of time, but there are still some physical reminders commemorating the event visible from the road: you may have seen the High Water marker on the west side of Highway 101 a little north of the Salmon Creek exit in southern Humboldt. Another mark sits atop a pole on the Avenue of the Giants at Weott; almost out of sight at the top of the tall pole is a marker showing how deep the Avenue was beneath the surface of the flooding Eel River.

The history and mystery of this past reminder of nature’s awesome power drew my interest to the marker at Weott. I doubt that I’ve ever passed by this marker, nor the one on 101 near Salmon Creek, without at least glancing at it and marveling for a moment at the shear volume of water that the flood had sent gushing through these places continuously for days, all up and down the river, and all over the region. That is a mind-bending amount of water pouring from the skies.

Looking south past the High Water mark along the Avenue of the Giants at Weott.

If people go through phases in their art, I am definitely deep into a night phase. When I am interested in photographing something, my mind inevitably begins thinking of how it might look at night, and what might make it an interesting image under the night’s magical light. Light is unique at night, offering the potential to make striking and unusual photographs. I know that compelling photographic opportunities abound in the daytime as well, for I see and appreciate daylight images all the time. But for whatever reason, I need to go shoot at night, to play with long exposures, perhaps paint my own light into the scene or watch as the lights of passing vehicles add their own strokes of luminance. The bummer is that I seem to have a daily need for sleep that can be most inconvenient. Still, I love both taking the photographs and then working with them later, as any creative photographer might have done in the darkrooms of old, and as I once did, only now we mostly use digital tools.

Where does the light come from at night? It’s never the same. There is a little star shine at all times, which is enough see well enough to walk around after one’s eyes have grown accustomed to it, but it is very faint and next to insignificant in my landscapes. The moon is an inconsistent light source in night photography, unlike the sun in the daytime. Because the moon’s phases change gradually each day, so does the amount and quality of its light, both on the landscape and in the lightness of the sky. Thus the night has phases of its own, following those of the moon, making each night just a little different.

Light also comes from both stationary and mobile ground sources, again unlike the daytime. The colors of the lights may vary widely. Some lights are cool, some warm, and some are extreme in intensity or color, such as the red of a car’s taillights or the brightness of its headlights. Some night light sources are points in the frame, some are streaks, and others bounce their glows upon the landscape. A passing car will add a splash of light to the photograph here or there as it travels by, while others will add different strokes, filling in new areas, perhaps in a warmer or cooler tone. Or again I may add light of my own. My enjoyment is in the process of gathering these threads of light and creating images from the scenes they illuminate.

To see previous entries of “Night Light of the North Coast,” click on my name above the article. If you’d like to keep abreast of my most current photography or peer into its past, you can follow me on Instagram at @david_wilson_mfx . I update my website mindscapefx.com less frequently, but you can contact me there.

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18 comments

  • Great morning read,great pictures. 👍🏾

    • My friend Dave was born in Mad River, and he grew up there. He was there in Mad River when the flood hit in “64. His parents, and brothers and sisters, had gotten to the east side of the river, and up on South Fork mountain. Dave was 11 years old at the time. He said he and his brothers slept in their station wagon, and others of his family , as well as many others, slept in a barn. It was rough communal living, but they survived. The army corps of engineers delivered hay and food, supplies like cots and some medicines. He said they loved those guys, because they ate better during the flood than they ever had. His dad was a logger, and there was not a lot of money. They were trapped on Southfork, as 13 bridges had blown out between the Mad river and Bridgeville. then Christmas came, and the corps flew in all the fixings for Christmas dinner, as well as presents. So many presents, he said to this day it was his best Christmas ever. It was the first time, at 11 years old, that he had a coke. There were dolls and trucks and everything. He said one of the reasons for the flood was a combination of a very potent pineapple express, and when it hit, there was 6 ft of snow at Kettenpom, they figure 15 to 20 ft on Southfork alone. Glub glub.

  • Good morning toad 🐸 have a nice day and be safe.

  • these pics are so fab! thank you david wilson and kym for sharing this beauty with us

  • Billy Casomorphin

    What we need is fewer stories about fires, stupid drug-crime, car wrecks, and , of course, marywanna, crooked cops and crookeder criminals, and, instead have a study, or at least a treatise, about the old men who rise at 0200 and type out whack comments on RHBB!

    What on earth motivates people like Willie, Guest, THC, Central Humco and Groba to attempt to dominate this section, with a mind to imposing the opinions of themselves on the assembled masses of the RHBB audience?

    These guys get up early, looking for empty comment sections, craving the status of “first comment”, almost totally without regard for the content of the story, the tone of the reporting, or the appearance of their own state of mind contained in the comment itself.

    Why also, do the random commenters attack without reading or comprehending the previous comment?

    Being decried as a “hater” or merely an “unhappy person” seems like a route taken by the “hater who is unhappy” and who also did not bother to comprehend the comments being commented upon… Repeatedly pointing out that another commenter is “not from here” merely reveals the provincialism and xenophobia of many Humboldt occupants…

    Also, focusing upon one or two words invoked by another commter, is primarily revealing of a miniature mind, and, in my opinion, if you have nothing to contribute, you should not, well, contribute!

    Thanks!

    The rules of commenting on RHBB are legend, and policies are made to be applied with some discrimination, but attempting to dominate every discussion seems like the act of a bully.

    • Best thing to do is just scroll past and ignor. The more people that respond the move motivation the “troll or hater” gets. I agree they must be miserable and have no life putting so much energy into something that isn’t getting you anywhere in life. They’re all over the internet though so let them waist their lives away!

      And stuber great story!

  • These markers have always caught my imagination, too. Thanks for sharing these awesome photos.

  • Billy you are so right on !!!

  • Billy Casomorphin,

    You suggest fewer stories about fires, stupid drug crime, car wrecks, mj, crooked cops and crookeder criminals – and instead a study on commenters?

    Maybe you just need some cheese?

  • Thank you David Wilson, for reminding us and remembering the power of nature. It was a hell of a Christmas that year. We were living in Redway, less than two years before our family bought a new house at the other end of the picture below. Why we moved there has always been a mystery, on a street called “Rivercrest”. Of course the South Fork Eel, never got to that level since, never forget…

  • I’ve seen too many blood spots from car hit deer to appreciate the ‘brake light’ red in that one photo, but I do love the one in black and white. Beautiful photo!

  • Beautiful photo’s. They really tell a story enhanced by your writing. Keep it up.

  • The photo of the Sprowel Creek Bridge brings back memories for me because I spent a few days after Christmas guarding it to make sure no one was crossing it before it could be inspected for damage, as part of the volunteer civil defense effort in Garberville to deal with the aftermath. Finally escaped over the hill through Alderpoint, Blocksburg and Bridgeville in the snow in a two-wheel drive Ford Ranchero, back to my dorm room at HSU in time for end of Christmas break. Lots of damage, but the North Coast community came together to rebuild, just like it does today after similar natural disasters like the fires the State is now experiencing. In that vein, great story on Diana Totten, Kim. She and all the other dedicated first responders from SoHum deserve all the praise they can get.

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